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Reviewed by Vincent Dublado for Readers' Favorite
A friend asks Tom Bridger for a favor. Bridger, the investigator protagonist in Cary Watson’s second novel, The Skeleton Palms, tells us that he cannot refuse—because he is both a house guest and sleeping with his friend’s wife. This brutal honesty tinged with idiosyncrasy is central to the first-person POV as Bridger has seen the darkest parts of the human heart, including his own. To observe Bridger as the archetypal tough P.I. is to see a fundamental type of crime fiction character being born. That is someone who is on the side of the law but gets entangled in a high level of conspiracy that involves backstabbing, corruption, murder, and wildfires. In the end, all eyes will turn to him. Everything that he knows must come to light as he finds who to pin the blame on. There will be things that he will want to remember and things that he will never forget.
Bridger is a complex character that is easy to understand. Kudos to Cary Watson for his brilliant style, which interlocks the narrative with Bridger’s childhood and his growing-up years in an arid mountain town. Other characters like Reinhart and Enoch possess the grit necessary to emphasize their character's distinctiveness. They don’t just follow their own set of morals, they illustrate them with every action. Bridger can be sharp-edged and menacing, but this is brought about by his nurture, hanging out with the wrong crowd, and being a part of the system. Watson’s storyline and characterization are vital in keeping The Skeleton Palms from becoming just another one of those forgettable crime novels. Like most noir tales, you can expect it to end in a flurry of revelations. But it is a brilliant upgrade to the genre, one that will keep you invested as you read along.